Nikita S. Kruschev

Nikita S. Kruschev books and biography


Nikita S. Khrushchev

Никита Сергеевич Хрущёв
Nikita Khrushchev

First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
In office
September 7, 1953 – October 14, 1964
Preceded by Joseph Stalin
Succeeded by Leonid Brezhnev

Premier of the Soviet Union
In office
March 27, 1958 – October 14, 1964
Preceded by Nikolai Bulganin
Succeeded by Alexey Kosygin

Born April 17, 1894
Kalinovka, Russian Empire
Died September 11, 1971 (aged 77)
Moscow, USSR
Nationality Russian
Political party Communist Party of the Soviet Union
Spouse Yefrosinia Khrushcheva (desc.)
Marusia Khrushcheva (div.)
Nina Khrushcheva

Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev (Russian: , Nikita Sergeevič Chruščiov; IPA: [nʲɪˈkʲitə sʲɪˈrgʲejɪvʲɪtɕ xruˈɕːof], in English, ['krustʃɛv], ['krustʃof] or [krus'tʃof], occasionally ['kruʃof]); surname more accurately romanized as Khrushchyov[1]; April 17 [O.S. April 5] 1894[2]–September 11, 1971) was the chief director of the Soviet Union after the death of Joseph Stalin. He was First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1953 to 1964 and Chairman of the Council of Ministers from 1958 to 1964. He was removed from power by his party colleagues in 1964 and replaced by Leonid Brezhnev. He spent the last seven years of his life under the close supervision of the KGB.


Early days

Nikita Khrushchev was born in the village of Kalinovka, Dmitriyev Uyezd, Kursk Guberniya, Russian Empire, now occupied by the present-day Kursk Oblast in Russia. His father was the peasant Sergei Nikanorovich Khrushchev (d. 1938 of tuberculosis); his mother was Aksinia Ivanovna Khrushcheva. He had a sister two years his junior, Irina. In 1908, his family moved to Yuzovka (now Donetsk, Ukraine). Later, since he spent much time working in Ukraine, Khrushchev gave off the impression of being Ukrainian. He supported this image by wearing Ukrainian national shirts. However, he has personally stated that "I Myself Am Russian".[1]

Although he was apparently highly intelligent, he only received about two years of education as a child and probably only became fully literate in his late twenties or early thirties.

He was trained and worked as a joiner in various factories and mines. During World War I, Khrushchev became involved in trade union activities, and, after the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, he fought in the Red Army. He became a Party member in 1918 and worked at various management and Party positions in Donbass and Kiev.

In 1931, Khrushchev was transferred to Moscow and, in 1935, he became 1st Secretary of the Moscow City Committee (Moscow Gorkom) of VKP(b). The Moscow city secretaryship was a traditional proving ground for rising stars in the party (cf Boris Yeltsin) and Khruschev apparently impressed with his leadership of the Moscow Metro works.

In 1938, he became the 1st Secretary of the Central Committee of the Ukrainian Communist Party, one of the most senior regional party positions.

Beginning in 1934, Khrushchev was a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in Moscow, and he was a member of the Politburo beginning in 1939.

Great Patriotic War

Khrushchev (left) at the military council of Stalingrad Front.
Khrushchev (left) at the military council of Stalingrad Front.

During the Great Patriotic War (Eastern Front of World War II, as known in Russia and several other countries), Khrushchev served as a zampolit with the equivalent rank of Lieutenant General.

In the months following the German invasion, in 1941, Khrushchev, as a local party leader, was coordinating the defense of Ukraine, but was dismissed and recalled to Moscow after surrendering Kiev. Later, he was a political commissar at the Battle of Stalingrad and was the senior political officer in the south of the Soviet Union throughout the war time period - at Kursk, entering Kiev on liberation, and in the suppression of the Bandera nationalists of the Ukrainian Nationalist Organisation, who had earlier allied with the Nazis before fighting them in Western Ukraine.

In the years leading up to 1953, Khrushchev was an ardent Stalinist, carrying out Stalin's orders with uncritical obedience; he earned the nickname "the Butcher of the Ukraine" in the late 1940s.[3]

Rise to power

Dwight Eisenhower, Nikita Khrushchev and their wives in 1959
Dwight Eisenhower, Nikita Khrushchev and their wives in 1959

After Joseph Stalin's death in March 1953, there was a power struggle between different factions within the party. Initially Lavrenty Beria controlled much of the political realm by merging the Ministry of Internal Affairs and State security. Fearing that Beria would eventually kill them, Georgy Malenkov, Lazar Kaganovich, Vyacheslav Molotov, Nikolai Bulganin and others united under Khrushchev to denounce Beria and remove him from power. With Beria imprisoned awaiting execution (which followed in December), Malenkov was the heir apparent. Khrushchev was not nearly as powerful as he would eventually become even after his promotion. Few of the top members of the Central Committee saw the ambition lurking within him. Becoming party leader on September 7 of that year, and eventually rising above his rivals, Khrushchev's leadership marked a crucial transition for the Soviet Union. He pursued a course of reform and shocked delegates to the 20th Party Congress on 25 February 1956 by making his famous Secret Speech denouncing the "cult of personality" that surrounded Stalin (although he himself had no small part in cultivating it), and accusing Stalin of crimes committed during the Great Purges. This effectively alienated Khrushchev from the more conservative elements of the Party, but he managed to defeat what he termed the Anti-Party Group after they failed in a bid to oust him from the party leadership in 1957.

In 1958, Khrushchev replaced Bulganin as prime minister and established himself as the undisputed leader of both state and party. He became Premier of the Soviet Union on March 27, 1958. Khruschev promoted reform of the Soviet system and began to place an emphasis on the production of consumer goods rather than on heavy industry.

He sought to lower the burden of defense spending on the Soviet economy by placing a new emphasis on rocket based defense. The Soviet lead in this technology was emphasized by the success of Sputnik 1 and subsequently Yuri Gagarin's Vostok flight. However, real Soviet missile forces remained small and the price that Khruschev paid inside the Soviet system - hostility from the armed forces - was a major contribution to his eventual removal from office.

At the same time the fear of Soviet missile forces was real enough in the West - prompting then United States of America Senator John F. Kennedy to attack then United States of America Vice-President Richard M. Nixon over the missile gap in the United States Presidential election, 1960 and culminating in the stand off of the Cuban missile crisis.

Domestically Khruschev did not seek to roll back the collectivisation of agriculture but instead promoted the virgin lands campaign programme with the claim that the Soviet Union could meet and surpass western levels of agricultural production through application of modern techniques and use of new crops. Initial successes here rapidly turned sour.

In 1959, during Richard Nixon's journey to the Soviet Union, he took part in what was later known as the Kitchen Debate. Khrushchev reciprocated the visit that September, spending thirteen days in the United States. His new attitude towards the West as a rival instead of as an evil entity alienated Mao Zedong's China. The Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China, too, would later be involved in a similar "cold war" triggered by the Sino-Soviet Split in 1960.

In 1961, Khrushchev approved plans proposed by East German leader Walter Ulbricht to build the Berlin Wall, thereby reinforcing the Cold War division of Germany and Europe as a whole.

Khruschev and Yuri Gagarin
Khruschev and Yuri Gagarin

Khrushchev's personality

Khrushchev was regarded by his political enemies in the Soviet Union as boorish. He had a reputation for interrupting speakers to insult them. The Politburo accused him once of 'hare-brained scheming' — referring to his erratic policies. He regularly humiliated the Soviet nomenklatura, or ruling elite, with his gaffes. He once branded Mao, who was at odds with Khruschev ever since the denunciation of Stalin at the 1956 Congress, an "old galosh", which was translated as "old boot". In Mandarin, the word "boot" is used to describe a prostitute or immoral woman. The Soviet leader also famously condemned his Bulgarian counterpart, making xenophobic comments about the Bulgarian people as well.

Khrushchev's blunders were partially the result of his limited formal education. Although intelligent, as even his political enemies admitted after he had defeated them, and certainly cunning, he lacked knowledge and understanding of the world outside of his direct experience and often proved easy to manipulate by hucksters who knew how to appeal to his vanity and prejudices. For example, he was a supporter of Trofim Lysenko even after the Stalin years and became convinced that the Soviet Union's agricultural crises could be solved through the planting of maize (corn) on the same scale as the United States, failing to realize that the differences in climate and soil made this inadvisable.

Khrushchev repeatedly disrupted the proceedings in the United Nations General Assembly in September-October 1960 by pounding his fists on the desk and shouting in Russian. On 29 September 1960, Khrushchev twice interrupted a speech by British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, removing his shoe and proceeding to bang his desk with it. The unflappable Macmillan famously commented over his shoulder to Frederick Boland, the Assembly President (Ireland), that if Mr Khrushchev wished to continue, he would like a translation.[4]

During a debate, on October 12, over a Russian resolution decrying colonialism, he was infuriated by a statement from the rostrum by Lorenzo Sumulong. The Filipino delegate had charged the Soviets with employing a double standard, pointing to their domination of Eastern Europe as an example of the very type of colonialism their resolution criticized. According to newspaper reports, published the following day, Mr. Khrushchev thereupon pulled off his right shoe, stood up, brandishing it at the Philippine delegate on the other side of the hall and began to furiously bang the shoe on his desk. The enraged Khrushchev accused Mr. Sumulong of being "Холуй и ставлиник импиральизма", which was translated as "a jerk, a stooge and a lackey of imperialism". The Premier alternately shouted, waved a brawny right arm, shook his finger and removed his shoe a second time. The second shoe incident occurred during a speech by Francis O. Wilcox, an Assistant U.S. Secretary of State. The chaotic scene finally ended when General Assembly President Frederick Boland broke his gavel calling the meeting to order, but not before the image of Khrushchev as a hotheaded buffoon was indelibly etched into the collective memory of the international community. On another occasion, Khrushchev said in reference to capitalism, "Мы вас похороним!", translated to "We will bury you". This phrase, ambiguous both in the English language and in the Russian language, was interpreted in several ways. Later, he would refer back to the comment and state, "I once got in trouble for saying, 'We will bury you'. Of course, we will not bury you with a shovel. Your own working class will bury you".

Forced retirement

Khrushchev's downfall came as a result of an apparent conspiracy among the Party bosses, irritated by his erratic policies and cantankerous behaviour, which was seen by the Party as an embarrassment on the international stage. The Communist Party accused Khrushchev of making political mistakes, such as mishandling the 1962 Cuban missile crisis and disorganizing the Soviet economy, especially in the agricultural sector.

The conspirators, led by Leonid Brezhnev, Aleksandr Shelepin and the KGB chief Vladimir Semichastny, struck in October 1964, when Khrushchev was on vacation in Pitsunda, Abkhazia. They called a special meeting of the Presidium of the Central Committee and, when Khrushchev arrived on 13 October, voted to remove him from his positions in the Party and in the Soviet government. A special meeting of the Central Committee was hastily convened the next day and approved the decisions of the Presidium without debate. On 15 October 1964, the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet accepted Khrushchev's resignation as the Premier of the Soviet Union.

Following his ousting, Khrushchev spent the rest of his life as a pensioner, living in quiet retirement in Moscow. He remained a member of the Central Committee until 1966. For the rest of his life, he was closely watched by the KGB, but managed to dictate his memoirs and smuggle them to the West. He died at his home in Moscow on 11 September 1971 and is buried in the Novodevichy Cemetery, Moscow, Russia, having been denied a state funeral and interment in the Kremlin wall.

Key political actions

Khrushchev embracing Cuban President Fidel Castro
Khrushchev embracing Cuban President Fidel Castro
Khrushchev meeting U.S. president John F. Kennedy in 1961
Khrushchev meeting U.S. president John F. Kennedy in 1961
  • In his Secret Speech, Khrushchev denounced Stalin for his personality cult and his regime for "violation of Leninist norms of legality", marking the onset of the Khrushchev Thaw.
  • Dissolved the Cominform organization and reconciled with Josip Broz Tito, which ended the Informbiro period in the history of Yugoslavia.
  • Established the Warsaw Pact in 1955 in response to the formation of NATO.
  • Ordered the 1956 Soviet military intervention in Hungary (see Hungarian Revolution of 1956).
  • Ceded Crimea from the Russian SFSR to the Ukrainian SSR in 1955.
  • Provided support for Egypt against the West during the 1956 Suez Crisis.
  • Promoted the doctrine of "Peaceful co-existence" in the foreign policy, accompanied by the slogan "To catch up and overtake the West" in internal policy.
  • Triggered the Sino-Soviet Split through talks with the U.S. and a refusal to support the Chinese nuclear program.
  • Initiated the Soviet space program that launched Sputnik I and Yuri Gagarin, getting a head start in the space race. Participated in negotiations with U.S. President John F. Kennedy for a joint moon program, negotiations that ended when Kennedy was assassinated in 1963.
  • Cancelled a summit meeting over the Gary Powers U-2 incident.
  • Met with Eisenhower in Iowa.
  • Initiated the deployment of nuclear missiles in Cuba, which led to the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.
  • Approved East Germany's construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, after the West ignored his request that West Berlin be incorporated into a neutral, demilitarized "free city".

Key economic actions

  • Second wave of the reclamation of virgin and abandoned lands (see Virgin Lands Campaign).
  • Introduction of sovnarkhozes, (Councils of People's Economy), regional organizations, in an attempt to combat the centralization and departmentalism of the ministries
  • Reorganization of agriculture, with preference given to sovkhozes (state farms), including conversion of kolkhozes into sovkhozes, introduction of maize (earning him the sobriquet kukuruznik, "the maize enthusiast").
  • Coping with housing crisis by quickly building millions of apartments according to simplified floor plans, dubbed khrushchovkas.
  • Created a minimum wage in 1956.
  • Redenomination of the ruble 10:1 in 1961.


Khrushchev's grave at the Novodevichy Cemetery was designed by Ernst Neizvestny, a sculptor he had denounced for promoting
Khrushchev's grave at the Novodevichy Cemetery was designed by Ernst Neizvestny, a sculptor he had denounced for promoting "degenerate art". It was made out of black and white stone to suggest that Khrushchev was both a good and a bad ruler.
Khrushchev sculpture at Nixon Library
Khrushchev sculpture at Nixon Library

On the positive side, he was admired for his efficiency and for maintaining an economy which, during the 1950s and 1960s, had growth rates higher than most Western countries, contrasted with the stagnation beginning with his successors. He is renowned for his liberalisation policies, whose results began with the widespread exoneration of political sentences.

With Khrushchev's amnesty program, former political prisoners and their surviving relatives could now live a normal life without the infamous "wolf ticket".

Khrushchev placed more emphasis on the production of consumer goods and housing instead of heavy industry, precipitating a rapid rise in living standards.

The arts benefited from this environment of liberalisation, where works like Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich created an attitude of dissent that would escalate during the subsequent Brezhnev-Kosygin era.

He also allowed Eastern Europe to have a greater freedom of action in their domestic and external affairs, without the intervention of the Soviet Union.

His de-Stalinization had a huge impact on young Communists of the day. Khrushchev encouraged more liberal communist leaders to replace hard-line Stalinists throughout the Eastern bloc. Alexander Dubček, who became the leader of Czechoslovakia in January 1968, accelerated the process of liberalisation in his own country with his Prague Spring programme. Mikhail Gorbachev, who became the Soviet Union's leader in 1985, was inspired by it and it became evident with his policies of glasnost and perestroika. Khrushchev is sometimes cited as "the last great reformer" among Soviet leaders before Gorbachev.

On the negative side, he was criticized for his ruthless crackdown of the 1956 revolution in Hungary, even though he and Zhukov were pushing against intervention until Hungary's declaration of withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact. He encouraged the East German authorities to set up the notorious Berlin Wall in August 1961. He had very poor diplomatic skills, giving him the reputation of being a rude, uncivilized peasant in the West and as an irresponsible clown in his own country. He renewed persecutions against the Russian Orthodox Church, publicly promising to show the "last priest" on Soviet television. Between 1960 and 1962, as many as 30 percent of churches were destroyed, with the number of monasteries falling by a quarter.[5]

His administration, although efficient, were also known to be erratic since he disbanded a large number of Stalinist-era agencies. He made a dangerous gamble in 1962 over Cuba, which almost made a Third World War inevitable. Agriculture barely kept up with population growth, as bad harvests mixed with good ones, culminating with a disastrous harvest in 1963, due to weather. All this damaged his prestige after 1962 and was enough for the Central Committee, Khrushchev's critical base of support, to take action against him. His right-hand man, Leonid Brezhnev, led the bloodless coup.

Many dissidents tended to view the Khrushchev era with nostalgia as his successors began discrediting or backtracking on his liberal reforms.

Personal life

Khrushchev married Yefrosinia Pisareva (1896-1921) in 1914. A year later their daughter Yulia (d. 1981) was born, and they had a son, Leonid, three days after the October Revolution. Yefrosinia died in 1921 of hunger, exhaustion and typhus during the famine following the Russian Civil War. In 1922 Khrushchev married a girl of 17 named Marusia but, as she attended to her young daughter and neglected her stepchildren, Khrushchev's mother soon convinced him to leave her.[6] His third wife was Nina Petrovna Kukharchuk (1900-1984), with whom he began living soon afterward (though the marriage was not officially registered until the late 1960s);[6] besides Sergei, they had two daughters, Rada (born 1929) and Lena (1937-1972).

Khrushchev's eldest son Leonid died in 1943 during the Great Patriotic War. His younger son Sergei emigrated to the United States and is now an American citizen and a Professor at Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies. He often speaks to American audiences to share his memories of the "other" side of the Cold War.


  1. ^ Due to various Reforms of Russian orthography, the ё letter is often replaced by е in writing. Hence Khrushchev is the standard English transliteration, even though it is more closely rendered as Khrushchyov.
  2. ^ According to official Soviet sources and his memoirs. His birth certificate gives 3/15 April. Tompson, p. 2.
  3. ^ Pearson, Raymond, The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Empire, p. 55. Palgrave, London, 2002.
  4. ^ BBC News, 28 October 2002, When the diplomatic mask slips
  5. ^ Kulavig, Erik, Dissent in the years of Khrushchev, p. 39. Palgrave, London, 2003.
  6. ^ a b Taubman, William, Khrushchev: The Man and His Era, p. 58. W. W. Norton, New York, 2003.

Further reading

  • William Taubman, Khrushchev: The Man and His Era, London: Free Press, 2004
  • Schecter, Jerrold L, ed. and trans., Khrushchev Remembers: The Glasnost Tapes, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1990
  • Talbott, Strobe, ed., Khrushchev Remembers, 1970
  • Khrushchev, Sergei N., Nikita Khrushchev and the Creation of a Superpower, Penn State Press, 2000.
  • Levy, Alan, Nazi Hunter: The Wiesenthal Files, Carroll and Graf, 2002
  • Khrushchev, Sergei N., translated by William Taubman, Khrushchev on Khrushchev, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1990.
  • Rettie, John. "How Khrushchev Leaked his Secret Speech to the World", Hist Workshop J. 2006; 62: 187–193.
  • Tompson, William J. Khrushchev: A Political Life. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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